Nebraska vs Wisconsin: Know Thy Enemy - Russell Wilson, Barry Alvarez, Nick Toon And Thousands of Fans Wearing Black

This week's "Know Thy Enemy" Q&A is so big that we had to have two Wisconsin web sites handle it - SB Nation's Wisconsin site, Bucky's 5th Quarter, and WiscoBadgers.com from the Fan Vs Fan network. Adam Hoge joins from B5Q, along with Andy Coppens, Sacsha and Arman from WiscoBadgers.com. 

The questions are really big, too, big enough that they're going to give you the information you need going into this game, i.e., is there any possibility that Madison runs out of beer? How does Barry Alvarez compare to Tom Osborne? Hey, maybe there's even some about the Badger football team!?!?! 

A new era of Big Ten play begins. Still happy that Nebraska has joined the conference, causing division splits and a title game?

Andy: If the split was going to happen I'm glad that Nebraska is the team that brought it about.  The increase in exposure for the Big Ten can only be a good thing and that's exactly what we've seen so far.  It also gives a chance for new rivalries to form and for us to continue our dominance over the Goophs.  I say welcome and can't wait to do that in person this weekend.

Sacsha: Yes, I think that it was a great idea bringing Nebraska into our conference.  Adding a title game gives us another opportunity to win a national championship, which whether Wisconsin sports fans want to admit, is on all of our minds.  After a trip to the Rose Bowl, a Superbowl win and a phenomenal Brewer season, sports fans in our state are on an all-time high. Nebraska adds a whole different level of competition to the season and we're ready for it.

Adam: I don't see how any Big Ten fan could be upset with it. I still hate the way the divisions were split, but I'm glad they were and I'm thrilled to be at the Big Ten title game this year no matter who plays in it. Playing Nebraska is only bolstering the exposure Wisconsin is already getting this season. As long as we're living in this BCS world, you and I both know exposure plays a huge part in which teams playing for the National Championship. As long as the Badgers take care of business Saturday, this game is the best thing possible for them.

Arman: Absolutely. For years B1G fans have been watching those games in the first two weeks of December - the Big 12 and SEC championship games - wondering, where the hell are my guys? Why don't we have one of those? Well, now we do, and it will do wonders for maintaining the conference's presence later in the season, and growing our exposure overall. Yes it is harder to get into a BCS national championship, but I'll take that any day. Not to mention that Nebraska is a perfect fit for the B1G, and everything just seems to feel "right".

I see that "Worst State Ever" T-shirts featuring Nebraska are selling in Madison. How can we be hated before the first game gets played, or is this "culture of hate" something we're going to need to get used to in the Big Ten?

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Andy: I wouldn't take too much stoke in those types of t-shirts as they are made for just about every state that has a team in the B1G.  I think there's a chance this could be a good rivalry, but I wouldn't say there's a level of "hate" just yet in the Wisconsin fanbase.  Beat us on Saturday and that might be a different story, lol.

Sacsha: This question honestly made me laugh when I first read it.  It made me think about when I was down in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago and got to witness the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry first hand.  I saw children under the age of 15 wearing shirts that read "Ann Arbor is a Whore" that were in town for the game.  Parental judgments aside, are the screen printed t-shirts really promoting hate between schools?  I'd have to say no.  I am a huge sports fan and will cheer my team on to the death, but I certainly don't "hate" Nebraska, or the Chicago Bears for that matter.  I wouldn't worry about it, unless, as AC said, you beat us Saturday.

Adam: I won't worry about it too much. Even Forrest Gump came up with a clever t-shirt. Plus, it's just attacking the state, not the team, and I mean, well, it is Nebraska. (Feel free to come up with a comeback bashing Wisconsin. I'm from Chicago.)

Arman: Yeah....don't take it personal. Fans in Madtown can make vulgar statements and seem inhospitable. It's for every big game though, not just this one. As long as you're respectful when you talk to them, they'll be nice back. Just ignore the drunkards who scream out at all passing Cornhusker fans, regardless of their demeanor.

Has Barry Alvarez achieved minor deity status like Tom Osborne has at Nebraska, or how is he viewed by the majority of Wisconsinites?


Andy:  Coach Alvarez is the best thing that could have happened to Wisconsin athletics, PERIOD.  Almost all the sports were mediocre at best before he came in and with the winning ways nearly all of our sports kind of started following suit.  What he's done since taking over as AD has been pretty good as well and he's looked at with total respect and admiration from us Badger Faithful.

Sacsha: Andy couldn't have said it better.  I grew up in Michigan, and I can still remember hearing people talk about how great Alvarez was.  I recently read the book What it Means to be a Badger and the section written about Barry Alvarez was so amazing, inspiring and, as an athlete and sports fan, very moving in my opinion.  Not only was he a great coach during his run, but he's left a permanent impression on the program and athletic department as a whole that hopefully will never fade.  New coaches that are coming in shouldn't feel like their ways are mediocre or overlooked; rather if they're good, its just adding to what's already been so solidly built.

Adam: Yeah I'd say that's pretty accurate. I mean, not only did he completely turnaround one of the worst football programs ever, but then he hired a guy who is taking the program to even higher levels. He's still a big part of the program and will be the honorary captain Saturday.

Arman: Barry put Wisconsin football on the map. He went to and won three Rose Bowls. As a result of all this, he now has a statue of himself, that he gets to look at everyday when he goes to work (he parks his car right in front of it, at Camp Randall). I wouldn't say he is a "god" on campus, but he is extremely highly respected and revered. We wouldn't be where we are today without him.

Russell Wilson has added an extra dimension to the offense, being a pass-first kind of quarterback. How has his arrival affected the offense, and what's your perception of Wilson so far?


Andy: We all were wondering what this offense would look like with Wilson at the helm and honestly it hasn't changed all that much, it's the same offense, just with a much better QB directing it.  As a whole he's been the best pick up possible.  He has become an instant leader and made everyone around him better, just look at the increased production from WR Nick Toon (career high 7rec, 155yds, 2TD's last week).  I've been most impressed with how humble he's been.  We've never had a QB quite like him here and I just sit back in awe of how great a fit he is for us.  Without him this offense is in a much different state, and not a good one!

Sacsha: I won't lie, I was a little bit annoyed with all of the hype built up around Wilson, but he's totally lived up to all of it in my opinion.  He comes across as a very good man - totally humble, a team player and very smart.  These are all qualities that are so important for a quarterback to possess, but it seems like a lot of times the best ones lack them the most.  It's good to see such a good guy be a great athlete.  It's also very exciting to see the passing dimension on the field the first few games.  We're known for our hard, run to the death ground game so it's kind of scary at the same time because change can be hard to accept.  Wilson keeps putting up great numbers though and he has been a great leader so I don't see what's not to like.

Adam: Other than simply getting better, the Badgers offense hasn't changed much with Wilson at quarterback. It's the exact same offense they ran last year, except they have a quarterback who can make NFL throws and tuck it and run for miles when no one is open. That's something we aren't used to at Wisconsin. So far we haven't really seen any designed runs for Wilson or anything like that, but if I were Nebraska, I might watch out for that Saturday. There are some wrinkles we haven't seen yet.

Arman: My opinion has always been that Paul Chryst loves having a diverse offense. This means running effectively, using tight ends in the pass game, and being willing to toss it downfield. Wilson is the first quarterback in a long time to be able to chuck it, with accuracy, so we're seeing Chryst utilize that more into the game plan. Wilson's athleticism in general allows Chryst to be flexible, call almost any play he wants. We have enough skill at every position on offense to allow for that. I think Wilson is an amazing player, potential Heisman winner (if we win out), and I couldn't be happier he's here. He is definitely a new type of athlete around Madison, but its something we've all embraced.


People know about Nick Toon. What about some of the other receivers and what are their strengths?


Andy: The WR corps really isn't all that experienced outside of Toon and Jared Abbrederis.  Abby, as he's called by some, is the "Wisconsin" story as he was a walk on and promised a scholarship for 2011 but gave that up to bring Russell Wilson on board.  He's a deceptively quick WR.  But the real threat comes from TE Jacob Pederson who has 4TD's already this year and is a great target inside the 20 for Wilson.

Sacsha: I was very excited to see Toon on the field.  His athleticism just really excites me because it's always cool to see those natural athletes in action.  Pedersen, however, is who I'd say is the untapped receiving talent that we'll get to really see this year.  He's scored four touchdowns already, so we're starting to see what he has to offer this offense, but there's much more where it came from.  I watched him play football from pop warner to high school football and he has some of the best hands I've seen.  I think Pedersen and Wilson are going to really create some sparks this year and give us Wisconsin fans some exciting games to jump around at.

Adam: Well other than Jared Abbrederis, there really aren't any wide receivers you have to worry about because the unit isn't that deep. Abbrederis is very fast though and the walk-on receiver has proven he can get open. He'll be returning punts as well. That doesn't mean Toon and Abbrederis are the only options you have worry about though. Tight end Jacob Pedersen is very dangerous in the red zone. If you don't cover him one-on-one down there, Wilson will find him for a touchdown. Also, I'll give you a specific play the Badgers will run Saturday and if your coaches don't stop it, it's on them because Wisconsin has run it in every game so far. It's simple. Fullback Bradie Ewing will sneak out towards the sideline and Wilson will hit him with what appears to be a dump-off because no one is open, but in reality it's a designed play and he going to have 20 yards of space to run in because every tight end and receiver is downfield blocking for him. There you go. No excuses now.

Arman: As the others stated, the really big ones are Abbrederis and Pedersen. Abby has been very consistant both receiving and blocking so far this season, and Pedersen is arguably the most productive tight end in the B1G (sorry Jake Stoneburner). Pedersen is the next in line of great Badger TEs (the last 4 to start have been drafted). We also use the running backs as receivers quite often - Wilson loves throwing to them in the slot or doing wheel routes out of the backfield. There's also up-and-comers like Manessah Garner and Jeff Duckworth. They're both soph WRs, and have shown athleticism and promise. Garner especially, will see the field this Saturday.

So far the Badgers have played teams ranked 106th, 72nd, 37th in total offense nationally and a FCS level opponent. The offense gets a lot of press, but there hasn't been a lot of exposure about the defense. Who are the playmakers, and how do you expect them to fare against Nebraska?


Andy: This is the biggest question mark going into this game.  We've held a pretty potent NIU offense to only 17 points and shut out Pac-12 member Oregon State so far this year, but they haven't exactly set the world on fire offensively since.  We'll really find out a lot about this defense on Saturday.  As for playmakers look for LB Chris Borland(#44) and LB Mike Taylor (#53) to fill that role.  They both have been all over the field and are tops in tackles on the team.  Borland is coming into his own as a MLB after a few years of shoulder issues.  They'll be the key to stopping Taylor Martinez.

Sacsha: I'll be totally honest, this question has me stumped the most.  I really haven't seen much coverage on the defense and to be even more honest, I haven't been overly impressed by it yet.  I know that they haven't given up many points, which is definitely notable.  Our offense is on a roll - Wilson is the second rated quarterback in the league.  However, just because we don't have any Wisconsin players in the top ranks of defensive players, teams shouldn't let our defense fly under their radar.  After all, what else is Wisconsin known for but big, strong linemen?  I have a feeling that we have a very explosive defense that's just waiting for the right time to strike (ie Borland, Gilbert, Taylor).

Adam: Wisconsin's defense is your classic bend-but-don't-break defense. Nebraska will gain a lot of yards Saturday, but the Badgers goal will be to make the Huskers settle for field goals. The run defense has been stout for years. The defensive tackles are very good and there are a lot of them so they can rotate in. Linebackers Mike Taylor, Chris Borland and Kevin Claxton are very good against the run. The problems tend to come when the defensive ends don't get to the quarterback, which is something I'm still a little worried about this season, because the secondary isn't always great in pass coverage. That being said, the defense has had problems in the past against option offenses. If Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead can disguise who has the ball, it will throw the Badgers off. The Wildcat look you guys have been showing this season could have some success as well. With that said, the defense always tightens up in the red zone, particularly because it almost never allows rushing touchdowns (just one this season and just 18 since the start of 2009, which is the third fewest in the country), so if Nebraska wants to win, Martinez is probably going to have to find a way to score touchdowns through the air.

Arman: Good question. This is a challenge for me, because I have a hunch that we will give up some big plays, potentially runs to Martinez. He's just got blistering speed, and our fastest guys on D by far are our DBs, and I doubt even they can catch him. However, if he and Burkhead can be contained, I expect LBs Chris Borland and Mike Taylor to cause some turnovers and control the center of the box. True, our competition thus far hasn't been stellar, but we held a very explosive Northern Illinois team to 7 points - I think a lot of people are overlooking that. The DEs are coming along, LBs are solid, and despite a tad of inexperience at Corner, I think we'll be alright. Martinez isn't a big thrower anyways, so I'm more concerned about the D-Line and LBs stepping up. So far the Wisconsin D has been overlooked - this game is an opportunity for them to make a statement, and I think they know it.

20,000 to 40,000 Nebraska fans are expected to show up in Madison, wearing black. Do you guys have enough beer, curds and brats to deal with that? Has this many opposing team's fans ever invaded Madison before?


Andy: Ohio State and Minnesota fans are pretty good about getting to Madison and Camp Randall, but not in those kind of numbers.  We're a pretty welcoming bunch so it'll be fun to have you all enjoy one of the most amazing college cities out there.  Better question is can you handle all the bars, beer, brats, and cheese you can eat and drink for a weekend?  Trust me, Wisconsin never runs out of beer, in fact we might just be inclined to buy you one or two to welcome you to our state.

Sacsha: I don't know if you really know what you're getting into coming to Wisconsin - as far as the beer and fat content of our fried delicacies go.  If you guys are really predicting 40,000 of your black-clad fans to show up, more power to you.  I personally think that it makes for a more exciting atmosphere at home games when the opposing team has a big turnout for fans.  We definitely won't run out of beer and no matter the predictions of the game or anything else, that's a for sure.  It's actually a really cool thing for Nebraska to be a part of this conference and get the opportunity to experience one of the most historic stadiums in history as well as the magic of our student section in person.  We'll welcome you with a cold one, a squeaky cheese curd and a good old-fashioned ball game!

Adam: Well, I doubt that many have, but don't worry, Madison is always ready for a football game. I hope you realize this isn't Wyoming you are invading. You might have your black shirts but you're still going to be outnumbered by large margin. And I guarantee you leave Madison thoroughly impressed as every other school before you has.

Arman: That certainly will be the most fans for an opposing team I've ever heard of, wow. The bars and restaurants couldn't be happier I'm sure, and I have little doubt that all the kegs will ever be tapped, or that the deep friers will run out of oil. It should be a fun packed evening, regardless of who wins (although I hope we do). I can't wait to welcome quality, midwestern folk from corn country into one of the, if not THE best college towns in America.

Prediction?


Andy: I think the key to this game is stopping the running game of Martinez.  Making him a one dimensional passer is really to our advantage.  He's only hit on 50% of his passes for the year.  I think Borland and Taylor are going to have massive games and shut down Martinez or Burkhead.  With that I say it's Wisconsin 38-17.

Sacsha: I think that Wilson and his style of offense is going to be key for a W for us Saturday.  The dynamic of Wilson, Pedersen, Toon will be dangerous for Nebraska.  Wilson has nearly a 76% completion rate and is one of the top quarterbacks in the league.  When you combine our relatively new passing game with our solid running game, our offense is a force that's hard to stop.  Our defense is going to have to find a way to stop Martinez - bottom line.  Stopping the running game and forcing him to throw will be a good start.  Cromartie will get to show that he can fill the gap that Smith left open and when all is said and done I predict Wisconsin 35-21.

Adam: Well, I think it's a good thing Wisconsin had a bad first quarter against South Dakota last week. It's really the only adversity the Badgers have faced through four weeks and I think it gave them opportunity to refocus before a big game. With that said, I expect there to be some jitters and some struggles Saturday. Penalties have been an issue, which is a surprise considering the Badgers led the country in fewest penalties last season. I could see Wilson throwing an interception and I could even see a running back fumbling the football -- which amazingly hasn't happened in over a year. All of this might result in a close first half, but ultimately, based on what I have seen so far this season, I really believe Wisconsin is better team than Nebraska. I think the defense will be able to exploit Nebraska as a one-dimensional offense in the second half and I don't see the UW offense having problems scoring points. Wisconsin 34, Nebraska 20.

Arman: Thus far this season, Nebraska hasn't lived up to its billing. The Badgers have. Granted, you can talk level of competition, but its not like Nebraska took on any big name programs. Fresno (who we are very familiar with) put up big points in Lincoln, as did Washington. We stuffed a powerful Northern Illinois team, and shut out Oregon State. Cases for supremacy can be given on both sides, but to date, Wisconsin has been far more consistant and dominant. My only concern is that we haven't had a four quarter game yet, so if it comes to that, how will we react? I think there is enough leadership on the sidelines and in the huddle to prevent panic, and keep everyone focused on the next play. Wisconsin's offense will be too diverse, Wilson will be too dynamic, for a healing Nebraska defense to handle. On the other side, Martinez will make some plays, and Rex will look good running the ball. But I expect at least 1, maybe 2 turnovers from Nebraska, keeping momentum on the side of the Badgers, and the crowd in the game. Night, at Camp Randall, crazy fans, I can't go against Bucky. Final score, 35-20 Badgers win.    

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